Tell us about So, This Then Is Life
The title is taken from a Walt Whitman poem, "The Leaves of Grass", which we discovered whilst researching material for this show: "This then is life. This is what has come to the surface after so many throes and convulsions." David Shrubsole is my longtime musical director and arranger and we always begin with the words when creating a new show. This time we have found lyrics, writing and quotations that illuminate the experiences of growing up. In our publicity we say, "If you could sit down with a 21 year-old version of yourself to share the surprises that life will bring... what would say?." We think the programme is thoughtful and amusing. It draws on the work of a diverse and diverting collection of personalities including Dillie Keane and Adele Anderson, Noel Coward, Lily Allen, Pam Ayres, Daphne du Maurier, Stephen Sondheim, Victoria Wood, Rudyard Kipling and A.E.Housman. There's a little Stiles and Drewe, Duncan Sheik and, of course, David Shrubsole himself.
Are you excited to be making your Crazy Coqs debut?
When the Brasserie Zedel (and the Crazy Coqs) opened I was on a long tour with Cameron Mackintosh's new production of The Phantom of the Opera playing M. Andre and, although I had heard all the rave reviews, I didn't get there for nearly a year. Not only is the restaurant London's best venue for maximum glamour at minimum price but the cabaret room is spectacular. Chris Corbin and Jeremy King have done a magnificent job on the restoration of this room and they have given London a perfect cabaret venue in a ridiculously perfect location. Yes, I am excited!
You've spanned many genres as a performer; where do cabaret shows rank?
Easy answer: working David Shrubsole has given me some of the most challenging, demanding, rewarding and revealing work that I have been lucky enough to do in 35 years. We have worked together for 18 years (when our schedules permit) in London and New York and our last show, Travelling Light, was nominated for New York's Drama Desk award.
What's the key to a good cabaret?
Truthful storytelling. Cabaret comes in many forms but whether the material is funny, thoughtful, fanciful or profound it must come from the performer's need to communicate rather than merely perform.
Solo shows aside, what do you consider your career high points to date?
There have been terrific highs (and lows), but my answer has to be playing Young Ben in the original West End production of Stephen Sondheim's Follies in 1987 at the Shaftesbury Theatre. It was a magnificent Cameron Mackintosh production directed by the late Mike Ockrent. The great composer was on hand throughout creating new work for the show, the cast were magnificent and I made lifelong friends. London had waited 18 years for a production of this legendary piece. Those times don't come along very often. In 2012 I organised the 25th anniversary reunion at Joe Allen's restaurant (thanks Cameron) and, although many of the original cast were no longer with us, it was an evening of reflection, love and sorrow, but with a tangible sense of the tenacity, drive and pride that keeps us all going. Of late, Sunday in the Park With George which transferred from the Menier Chocolate Factory to Wyndham's and the sensational success of Titanic at the Southwark Playhouse.
Tell us more about Titanic - it made a huge impact, including winning a WhatsOnStage Award
It was a complete pleasure to work with such a committed, delightful, professional and affectionate group of actors and creative team and the reaction from the audience and the press was overwhelming. There we were just doing our work in a former factory in Southwark and the audience stood and hollered every night.
Any roles remaining on your wish list?
I've played Tony in West Side Story, Henry Carr in Stoppard's Travesties, Lumiere in Disney's Beauty and the Beast, and have starred at the RSC, The Old Vic and Opera North, originated plays for Alan Ayckbourn and played Carnegie Hall. It has always been demanding, rewarding and, at times, tough but nearly always great fun. What comes next will come next.
You've just finished playing Samuel L Jackson's butler on screen - how was that?
It was the biggest production that I have ever worked on. It was filmed at the Warner Brothers studio (Harry Potter) with explosions, special effects, CGI. Nothing like rep theatre. Samuel L Jackson was a charmer. I have just filmed an episode of the new 24 - Live Another Day with Stephen Fry, another charmer. Great.
So, This Then Is Life is transferring to New York's 59E59 Theaters (20 May-1 June), and then I return to London to direct Cafe Society Swing, a new jazz theatre piece, for the Leicester Square Theatre in June which transfers to New York for Christmas. At the invitation of Griff Rhys Jones, I'm also directing the Dylan Thomas Centenary concert at the Dominion Theatre in October. Life is good and the bees at the bottom of our garden are making a lot of honey in their hives.